It is unheard of to unmask the egwugwu. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the egwugwu are masked ancestral spirits. Their revered council has the power of life and death in the clan. They are concurrently respected and dreaded as the judges in the community.
Their word is law. They are, accordingly, the most powerful and most secret cult of the clan. Their authority derives from ageless traditions and practices. They exercise this authority with utmost impartiality.
We are told of one egwugwu who has the springy walk of Okonkwo, the lead character in the story. “Okonkwo’s wives, and perhaps other women as well, might have noticed that the second egwugwu had the springy walk of Okonkwo.
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And they might also have noticed that Okonkwo was not among the titled men and elders who sat behind the row of the egwugwu. But if they thought these things, they kept them within themselves. The egwugwu with the springy walk was one of the dead fathers of the clan.”
But the egwugwu are not just the spirits of the ancestors. They also symbolise the spirit of the clan. Unfortunately, the egwugwu lost their power, after the coming of Europeans into this aboriginal African clan. Their loss of power is presaged by the unmasking of one of them by an overzealous convert to a new religion the Europeans have brought. This marks the start of the destruction of their just society and loss of innocence and independence.
The story of the egwugwu of the Ibo is the African story writ large. A European court replaces the egwugwu. The Judiciary, as we know it, is the latter day Egwugwu Council. The White man placed his knife through the heart of the things that held us together. We fell apart. Among those things was the egwugwu. Mercifully, we inherited his egwugwu. In the main, the European egwugwu has served us well, even if the State has often taken it hostage.
At the lowest moment in Kenya, we burnt our country because we did not trust the egwugwu to impartially listen to our complaints and correct the abuses. For, we had abused the egwugwu. Raped it. Emasculated it. In our frustrated madness, we turned to our machetes, matchboxes and sundry combustibles.
We killed. We burnt people – even those in church buildings. All this was because we had no faith in the egwugwu. The world came to our rescue, however. We agreed to go before the international egwugwu. But, being adept at respecting nothing, we Kenyans unmasked the international egwugwu. We unmasked the International Criminal Court (ICC). We made the ICC a hopelessly impotent scarecrow.
If we did not set Kenya on fire in 2013, it was because we still believed that the ICC could bite. For, our people were still before this court. Now we know better. The ICC is only a scarecrow. We therefore fear nothing and nobody.
In this context the Judiciary is the last firewall, ahead of next month’s General Election. Our repackaged egwugwu has demonstrated rare independence. Yet this makes us unhappy. In the wake of what has the mark of a new fire dance ahead of next month, we seem only too keen to unmask the egwugwu. Certainly, President Kenyatta and his deputy have this week tried to roll back the mask. Raila Odinga and the NASA brigade have also previously attempted to unmask the egwugwu.
A few weeks ago, Raila warned the egwugwu against ruling in favour of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in the matter of where the presidential election results should be announced.
This posturing was blatant intimidation of the Judiciary. It is instructive that in 2012, Raila described the Judiciary as “koti bandia,” which is to say a fake court. He eventually ate humble pie and apologised to Evil Forest the Lead Egwugwu, otherwise known as Dr Willy Mutunga. It is sad that a leader many are looking up to should once again appear to intimidate the Judiciary.
The pick of the basket, however, has been this week’s unwarranted presidential explosion against Chief Justice David Maraga and the Judiciary. The president and his deputy were unhappy that the IEBC lost the case that NASA took to court over the printing of the ballot papers.
They angrily tore into the CJ and the Judiciary, in front of a charged and largely partisan ethnic crowds. This is sad. First, we cannot trust the sense of judgment of the crowds that attend Jubilee and NASA rallies. Serious and focused people cannot spend invaluable time at these jamborees.
Where do you get the time on a working day to sing and shout at these carnivals where nothing new is said, except the same insults and incitement? These crowds have the dangerous look of the weirdos that do silly things, in the event that there is a dispute about the poll.
Listening to both President Kenyatta and Raila, it increasingly looks like neither is psychologically prepared to accept defeat. The last thing you want to do in the circumstances is to cast aspersions on the Judiciary. For, it looks like someone will certainly want to go to court. But if we don’t go to court, we are likely to once again pick up machetes, matchboxes and assorted combustibles – especially now that the ICC does not matter anymore.
Kenyans must firmly tell Jubilee and NASA leaders to respect the independence, integrity and dignity of the Judiciary.
This latter day egwugwu must remain a respected final firewall. Anyone not satisfied with the presidential poll must be trusted to go to the Judiciary and the rest of us ready to accept the verdict. Otherwise it is futile to parrot about peaceful elections while also undermining the most important player in the entire process. To kill the Judiciary is to kill the spirit of Kenya.
- Mr Muluka is a publishing editor, special consultant and advisor on public and media relations [email protected]